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By Robin N. Kendall

Photo:  Area 4 candidates Emma Turner, Abu-Bakr Al Jafri, and Sarah Rhiley

October 7, 2020 (La Mesa-Spring Valley) -- Two out of five trustee seats will be on the ballot this year for certain residents of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. One seat is held by current Board President Dr. Emma Turner, who is running for re-election against four opponents in Area 4. This area includes Bancroft, Sweetwater Springs and Loma Elementary Schools. Five candidates are running, and three sent in responses to our questionnaire.  Scroll down to view responses from Emma Turner, Sarah Rhiley, and Abu-Bakr Al-Jafri.

The other trustee seat was filled by Jim Long, whose term has expired. That seat will be filled by a newcomer from Area 5 which includes Avondale, Rancho, and La Presa Elementary Schools, as well as STEAM Academy and Kempton Literacy Academy. The Area 5 race will be covered in part two of this series.

The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District includes 21 elementary and middle schools and serves over 12,000 students. This East County school district not only educates students living in La Mesa and Spring Valley, it also serves families in a portion of the city of El Cajon (Fletcher Hills), and the unincorporated communities of Casa de Oro and Mount Helix.

According to the LMSV district’s website, Board of Education page ( in this year’s election, board members will be elected by trustee area. This is in response to the California Voting Rights Act.

To find out which trustee area you live in, the district has posted a map at


LMSVSB Candidates in Area 4

East County Magazine emailed a set of questions to each of the candidates for school board. Below are the responses from three of the five candidates on the ballot, including Emma Turner, Sarah Rhiley, and Abu-Bakr Al-Jafri. The remaining two candidates, Lydia Milican and Suzanne Fairman, did not return our emails.

(In the next story, part 2, we report on the candidates for Area 5.)

Dr. Emma Turner, Incumbent, LMSV School District Trustee, Area 4

Biography: Dr. Emma Turner is a current school board trustee for La Mesa Spring Valley School District Area 4 and has served since 2006 in that capacity. Turner has served in the positions of President, Vice President and Clerk of the Board for the district. She is a credentialed K-8 and special education teacher and adjunct professor for the University of Phoenix. In addition to her other degrees, she earned a master’s in education from USD and a doctorate in psychology from Alliant International University. She has volunteered in the local school systems since 1996 and has been a parent volunteer for more than 20 years. She was elected President and Board of Director of the California School Boards Association and as Board of Director for the National School Boards Association. She is a retired Navy veteran, with 27 years on active duty. Turner is married and has three daughters who attended K-12 schools in East County.

Turner’s answers to ECM questions:

1.  What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community? How can the school board address these challenges?

The most significant current challenges facing education in this community are:  inadequate funding; homelessness; poverty; aging infrastructure; the pandemic crisis; lack of equity; and declining average daily attendance (ADA), etc.

The school board can address these challenges as it currently does. We plan in advance as much as possible by inclusively working with stakeholders, including the community, parents, district employees and students. This type of early collaboration ensures we have stakeholders at the table and that we are not making decisions without thoughtful deliberation and in isolation. A successful example occurred when we had to decide how to handle infrastructure on an elementary campus that was inhabitable due to decay. We closed this school and converted it to use by the community and neighborhood athletic groups based on community needs.

2.  What motivates you to want to serve on the school board? Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

I am motivated to serve on the school board because I truly care for all children and want all students to learn every day. In America, education is a civil right, given to all of us despite our circumstances.

The educational experiences of my parents being sent to work at an early age (before high school graduation) to help support their family as a housekeeper and a sharecropper inspired me to complete high school and college. Despite my parents’ lack of education and less than desirable careers, all their children graduated from college and had more career choices. This is proof positive that education is a great equalizer in this country.

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of? For challengers, what do you most hope to change?

I am most proud of my contribution to our healthy school board climate. We are a group of five individuals that have to come together to do the best we can for all children in the district, regardless of area. Despite challenges like the pandemic, we continue to work as a team, expressing ideas and concerns, but after discussion deciding to vote for the greater good of all our students. I believe one reason the board is healthy is because of my leadership as current President of the board. I ensure that all members are given an opportunity to be heard before we vote on any issue. I make it clear that there are no wrong comments and we can always agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Because three school board members are new to their positions, I believe I have the additional duty to help with their training. All of them have graciously accepted assistance and helped to create the healthy climate.

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy?

County Supervisor Diane Jacobs and La Mesa City Councilman Bill Baber.

5.  What is your vision for education in this community?

My vision for education in this community is to continue to provide quality education for all students and continue to provide a healthy working atmosphere for employees that will increase retention and encourage even more quality recruitment. Our short-term goals include passing a bond to rebuild and update infrastructure, as well as continuing to disaggregate data to determine what each student-group needs to be successful. Our long-term goals include providing adequate education funding to all schools, including federal funding of special education. We were promised 40% funding from federal government, but are only getting about 18%. Therefore, special education is mainly funded by encroachment on general funds of the district.

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

If re-elected, I could address the issue of racial inequities in the district by looking at all decisions concerning educating children through equity lenses. In other words, regardless of where they are or their circumstances, what will it take to address the needs of all students (the whole child) in the district so that they can learn up to their potential. The district leadership is doing great work in addressing equity in all their work, so as board members, our job is to support their efforts to help students, including providing some students more (like our special education students) and providing teachers and staff equity training.

Sarah Rhiley, candidate for LMSV School Board, Area 4

Biography:  Sarah Rhiley was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California, and moved to San Diego to attend SDSU, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in international business, and a master of science in business administration. She spent the following 12 years working in insurance and corporate litigation. She is now a stay at home parent and volunteers with Girl Scouts, her church and the PTA at Murdock Elementary.

Rhiley stated, “As a parent of four La Mesa-Spring Valley School District children, a district employee, and active PTA volunteer, I have an in-depth knowledge of the challenges our district faces.”

In addition, she said, “COVID-19 is stretching the limits of our District. The educational system we’ve had for the last 30 years is not working. Now is the time for CHANGE! Distance learning isn’t sustainable long-term, however we can put new programs in place now that have not been done before. We need a K-8 Language Academy, STEM, hands-on experiential learning, wholesome farm-to-table food to fuel our students and much more!”

Rhiley’s answers to ECM questions:

1.  What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community? How can the school board address these challenges?

The most significant current challenge is our schools not reopening. Our children should be in school! Neighboring districts, charter and private schools have shown that it is safe and necessary to open our schools. The majority of our students are not in a high risk category. Our families need this. Distance learning is not working for most families. Our teachers are trying to make the best of it, but they became teachers to be present with children and make a difference in their lives.

The board could address this by being open and transparent to input from its constituents; especially families. Nearby districts were proactive in establishing a strategy for reopening from the onset; our district did not and now we are in a far more dangerous predicament, where our children and families are suffering.

I support choice and providing learning opportunities for our children. In my opinion, our district has the resources to offer in-classroom, distance, and hybrid learning. I don’t support social distancing protocols for young children; cohorting and increased sanitization strategies would limit the spread sufficiently. High risk teachers should have options for remote work; all others should return to work. There is no one size fits all, each family will need to make choices as will teachers.

Trustee Area 4 is a hard-working area and includes mostly dual-income and single parent households which are being adversely affected by the continuance of distance learning. Our parents are paying for childcare in all different settings so that they can work. Our district has been allocated federal funds to pay for any modifications to allow for social distancing and/or desktop barriers. It is inexcusable for fee-based child care and day camps to be open, yet the schools we pay for through taxes to remain closed.

2.  What motivates you to want to serve on the school board? Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

Honestly, the biggest reason I am running for school board is to speak on behalf of the parents in our district. Many parents and neighbors stand with me because they know I will listen to their ideas, grievances, and suggestions, and I will speak on their behalf.  

In the 8 years that we have been an LMSV family (and the 16 years in this same house), I have not seen the Board actively engage with parents or constituents. How does the Board know what we as parents and we as community members, need or expect from the district, if they have never asked? 

Over the past 5 years, I have approached school administration, LMSV District Administrators, and the Board regarding multiple issues including declining enrollment, encouraging new programs, and asking the question “why can’t we do this?”

This pandemic and the current situation highlights the lack of communication between our community, our administration, and our board representatives. We need to change that!

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of? For challengers, what do you most hope to change?

First, I plan to establish a working relationship with each school in Trustee Area 4. I want to know what our staff, teachers, students, and families need and how we can help our children be more successful in our schools.

We need to change the way we are feeding our children’s’ brains! The processed, pre-packaged food that our cafeterias are serving needs to change. Our children should be the beneficiaries of the current farm to table movement so they have the nutrition necessary to fuel their bodies and their brains.

In order for our district to thrive, we need to provide school choice and bring in programs that parents have been requesting for years that neighboring districts and charter schools are providing. We need to provide better opportunities for STEM, language, and vocational academies along with hybrid learning with enrichment stipends. 

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy?

The Republican Party of San Diego

5.  What is your vision for education in this community?

Our district has so much potential for excellence! We have passionate teachers, amazing families, and some fantastic schools. We need to bring more involved families back to the district. In order to do that, the district needs to provide the programs that parents have been requesting so that more of our local families attend our neighborhood schools, rather than looking toward neighboring districts and charter schools.

I would love to see more parents and community members get involved in their local schools and for the schools to become a gathering place for community groups of all types. Schools should be the hubs of our community. We need our schools to set a bright tone for our future. 

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

LMSV School District Trustee Area 4 is very diverse and has experienced rapid growth in the number of students of color, culturally and linguistically diverse students, and students from low-income families. This growth is an opportunity to establish consensus that racial, cultural, and economic differences are real—and that they make a difference in education outcomes.

First, we need to recognize that Trustee Area 4 faces these challenges and then we need to develop a multi-faceted approach that includes at the bare minimum: building educators' cultural competency, transforming instructional practices, and engaging the community. This is the time to do things better than have been done in the past. It is about identifying the reality and being intentional with how we move forward from here.

Sarah Rhiley’s social media pages are: Facebook: rhileyforlmsvschoolboard, Instagram: rhileyforschoolboard and her website is

Abu-Bakr Al-Jafri, candidate for LMSV School Board, Area 4

Biography:  Abu-Bakr Al-Jafri describes himself as a civil engineer, project manager and an artist.

Al-Jafri’s response to ECM’s questions:

Students face many challenges. Students can maximize their learning potential when they have a clean and safe environment to study and learn that is free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying. They need to have nutritious food and lead-free drinking water. Students need to have motivated, qualified, trained on the latest tools, knowledgeable and skilled teachers that provide personalized attention to their students. Students need to have mentors and counselors to help them deal with their challenges and the latest communication and electronic technologies.

I think math, science, coding, technology, social studies, and art are essential for the development of students. I am a lifelong student that believes you will make better choices in life when you know more. Schooling helped me get a good job and made me a better person. And I want to help others pursue their dreams. Diversity is essential for every community to thrive and improve the quality of life. If all the colors of the flowers are yellow, they will not have the same impact.

Robin Norris Kendall is from La Mesa and graduated from Helix High School and San Diego State University. She has worked as a writer and editor in a  variety of fields including health communications, science education, public relations and marketing. Her experiences are in STEM education, higher 

education PR, recreation marketing, military life and outdoor education. She volunteers for the San Diego Natural History Museum and San Diego Zoo/Safari Park. She is currently working on two books for children. Her passions include natural history, bird watching, dogs and nature travel. She is the mother of two and grandmother of three.

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and our coverage of the 2020 local campaigns. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and

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